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Chris Bannister

COLOMBIA - Telecoms & IT

Chris Bannister

CEO, WOM colombia


After a long career in telecommunications, Chris Bannister was appointed CEO of the Play operator in Poland in 2005 and began his career with the Icelandic investment fund Novator Partners. At the head of Play, he managed to exploit the potential of the small operator and level the market, which he replicated in Chile by transforming Nextel into WOM. He arrived in Colombia in 2020 to lead WOM with the same promise: to connect the disconnected, generate greater dynamism and competition in the market, and provide Colombians with the mobile phone services and prices they deserve.

As part of its commitment to connect the disconnected, WOM connected 674 communities across Colombia that that did not have access to the internet before.

How can WOM democratize connectivity in Colombia, and how does it plan to do so?

Our promise before we entered Colombia was to democratize connectivity and bring a digital society forward, which meant lowering prices. Chile was the most expensive country in the region in telecommunication, and when we launched, it became the cheapest. Colombia, three months ago, was the 15th in Latin America in accessibility, and now it is one of the cheapest alongside Chile. Our target audience are the people living in estratos 1-3 and getting those people to not just own a mobile phone, but also use it. We made a commitment to the Colombian government to connect 674 communities that were previously unconnected, and even during the pandemic we have managed to uphold those commitments. We have now connected villages that had never even had the internet before. That allows more children access to remote education. We hope remote learning and e-commerce will become part of the lifestyle there as well.

WOM is projected to construct 3,000 additional towers over the next three years with an investment plan of USD1 billion. Where is that investment focused, and what is the company’s operational strategy?

It is about investing in robust, reliable networks and constructing them with a model that allows us to provide lower cost pricing to all segments. In our office, we do not have executive suites or fancy bells and whistles; we put all our money toward what the customer would want. That allows us to bring a different price model, and then we invest in the networks so that we can roll them out with new technology as quickly as possible.

What is the social and economic impact of the company, and what does it mean within the context of economic reactivation?

Over the last 12 months, we have most likely been Colombia’s largest recruiter. Filling 2,500 jobs during the pandemic over Zoom calls has been a challenge but we managed to achieve it. We offer middle to high-income engineering and high-profile jobs. Especially for reactivating the economy, we have the lower end of the scale as well in retail. We have built 147 stores throughout the whole of Colombia in 12 months. The average age of the workforce is 32 years old. It has been extremely satisfying to provide in excess of 2,000 attractive jobs during the pandemic across multiple facets of the telecoms industry. It has also substantially benefited the reactivation of Colombia. Our vibrancy and competition mean that others have to start competing, and that is an advantage in the telecoms, logistics, and advertising spaces. It allows other economies and industries to take part in the reactivation.

How is SalvaWOM, the company’s free insurance against theft, representative of WOM’s distinguishing value added?

We look closely at what our customers want. During the pandemic, handset theft was on the rise, and we wanted to offer SalvaWOM, a handset insurance scheme, as a standard with all of our handsets. Another initiative that has resonated well is free WhatsApp for COP1,000 for 12 months. Even if one is on a prepaid device and they have run out of data, they can at least communicate with text and voice via WhatsApp. This has resonated extremely well with everyone.

How is WOM committed to developing Colombia, and what is the transformational impact of the solutions that you offer?

Telecoms being such a big industry means it has a big impact on other sectors such as innovation, customer service, and logistics. That starts to show that Colombia is open for competition and investment, which is what we are demonstrating. Some people wonder how we can confidently invest USD1 billion into the country without risk. The talent here is second to none, and I have lived in 10 other countries. Showcasing a large start-up that changes the telecoms industry and re-engages with many other industries will give confidence to other investors.



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